Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What About Those Who Never Heard The Gospel?


"What about those who never heard the gospel? Why didn't God bring the gospel to certain people/ages?"

There is no good answer to this question; it is a bad question. It's like asking, "Why is 1+1 equal to 75?"

A good question is, "Why did God bring the gospel to any people/age?" An even better question, from the sincere Christian, "Why did God bring the gospel to such a wretch as me?"

Still, we encounter this question repeatedly, "Why didn't God bring the gospel to certain people/ages?"  and we need to consider it.

So, why is it a bad question? It is a bad question because it arises from several false presuppositions about God/Man/Salvation/Ourselves.

In addressing this question, it is folly to try and answer it on the terms it is presented. The truth must be presented on its own terms. So, we need to get behind the question, and address the ideas being taken for granted by the asker. We need to address the false presuppositions: the premises at the root of the question.

So, what are the false premises in, "Why didn't God bring the gospel to certain people/ages?"

At least 6:

1) Misconceptions regarding salvation.
2) Misconceptions regarding knowledge of salvation.
3) Humanism.
4) Judging God.
5) Doubting God's Goodness
6) Vain Curiosity.

In addressing these premises, we will have to contradict several ideas that are almost universally accepted. I warn you, up front, the following will humble you. Or else, make you furious. In dismantling human merit, and exalting God, I will surely annoy and aggravate quite a few.

False Premise I. A Misconception Regarding Salvation

Why is it people have such a hard time with "those who didn’t have a chance" to be saved? Why? Because men, especially worldly men, think everyone deserves a chance to be saved. Not so. What we all naturally deserve is eternal condemnation.

"Why didn't native Americans in 1400 have a chance to be saved?"

The presupposition behind this question is: Men deserve to be saved from God's wrath, or at least, to have the opportunity to be saved. This is a serious misconception regarding salvation.

The very nature of salvation is that it is not by works, but by God's sweet grace, and that we do not do a single thing to deserve it. It comes from God's love, and issues forth in mercy to the undeserving. If men deserved to be saved, they would not need to be saved. If man could climb to heaven, naturally, by his own merit, there would be no need for God to reach down and pluck him out of hell.

Instead of asking, "Why not them," we should be asking, "Why anyone? Especially, (If we are Christians), why US?" In fact, it is a marvel that anyone in any age is the recipient of the glorious gospel. After the rebellion of our first father, God might justly have left the world in awful darkness, accruing, age by darker age, guilt and condemnation, until the day when he visited the earth in just retribution, and delivered every last man and woman into eternal hell. Had God only acted in strict justice toward man, this would have been the course of human history. The fact that he did otherwise is a testament to his mercy and grace.

Read the following words from Spurgeon's Free Grace with care:
Though there is no righteousness in any man, yet in every man there is a proneness to truth in some fancied merit. Strange that it should be so, but the most reprobate characters have yet some virtue as they imagine, upon which they rely. You will find the most abandoned drunkard pride himself that he is not a swearer. You will find the blaspheming drunkard pride himself that at least he is honest. You will find men with no other virtue in the world, exalt what they imagine to be a virtue—the fact that they do not profess to have any; and they think themselves to be extremely excellent, because they have honesty or rather impudence enough to confess that they are utterly vile. Somehow the human mind clings to human merit; it always will hold to it, and when you take away everything upon which you think it could rely, in less than a moment it fashions some other ground for confidence out of itself. Human nature with regard to its own merit, is like the spider, it bears its support in its own bowels, and it seems as if it would keep spinning on to all eternity. You may brush down one web, but it soon forms another, you may take the thread from one place, and you will find it clinging to your finger, and when you seek to brush it down with one hand you find it clinging to the other. It is hard to get rid of; it is ever ready to spin its web and bind itself to some false ground of trust. It is against all human merit that I am this morning going to speak, and I feel that I shall offend a great many people here. I am about to preach a doctrine that is gall and vinegar to flesh and blood, one that will make righteous moralists gnash their teeth, and make others go away and declare that I am an Antinomian, and perhaps scarcely fit to live. However, that consequence is one which I shall not greatly deplore, if connected with it there should be in other hearts a yielding to this glorious truth, and a giving up to the power and grace of God, who will never save us, unless we are prepared to let Him have all the glory.

False Premise II. A Misconception Regarding The Knowledge of Salvation

OK, someone may answer, they didn't deserve to be saved, but shouldn't they at least have heard the gospel, so they might have the necessary knowledge to be saved?

This question still assumes that men deserve something other than wrath. It still assumes that God is our debtor. In this case, men deserve KNOWLEDGE.

I repeat, from above, only slightly altered: Why is it people have such a hard time with "those who didn’t have access to knowledge of salvation" in various places/ages? Why? Because men, especially worldly men, believe everyone deserves knowledge of the gospel. Not so. What we all naturally deserve is eternal condemnation.

Knowledge is also a gift of God; the knowledge of salvation is part of the gift of salvation. Its not that we all deserve the knowledge, and then some of us are given grace to apply the knowledge. No. We don't deserve any part of salvation. Every single part of it, from start to finish, is of grace, and grace alone.

Knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom are given to whom God chooses, when God chooses, out of sheer grace.

Lk. 10.23-24, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

Mt. 11.25-27, “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, but revealed them to little children...such was your good pleasure... those to whom the son chooses to reveal him.”

Mt. 13.11, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”

False Premise III. Humanism

"What about those poor people who never heard the gospel?"

There is an implicit humanism, and man-centered bias, to the question. As if, the happiness of men were the central concern of God. As if, man were the measure of all things.

The central concern of God is, rather, his own glory. Men naturally think that God is like them, man-centered, concerned 24/7 with satisfying the whims of the selfish human self. God is not like us. God is just. This mean that he must do justice to himself: he is, in truth, the center of the universe. It is unjust for anyone not to give all glory to God because all glory is due to God. So, when God makes his own glory his chief end in all he does, he is being absolutely just. In making the happiness of man the chief end of all things, or our primary concern, we are being unjust. This is a travesty, a crime against the warp and woof or reality. This is an impoverished way of thinking.

False Premise IV. Judging God

"How could God not give ... them a chance?"

Phrased like this, the question betrays an attempt to play God: even, an attempt to judge God; even, a slander on the character of God. Such a question implies that God is less than just in his ruling of his universe. As if, we could stand over God and condemn his actions. As if, we could question and impugn God's character, or his workings in history.

God does whatever God wants to do, and his character is unquestionable. God, as God, is free and rules all things as he desires. This includes when/whom he chooses to save. Now, nothing could be more repugnant to the mind of rebellious man. Why? Because we want to be God. And, because we want to be God, we are wont to slander the character of God. To say, in effect, I'm a better god than God. B.B. Warfield described our disagreeable disposition toward God:
(We have an) unwillingness to acknowledge ourselves to be wholly at the disposal of another. We wish to be at our own disposal. We wish "to belong to ourselves," and we resent belonging, especially belonging absolutely, to anybody else, even if that anybody else be God...We will not be controlled. Or, rather, to speak more accurately, we will not admit that we are controlled.
Because we resent the rule of God, we malign his character. We should remember: God is not answerable to us, or to any human being. We are answerable to him.

It is not, as some say, always wrong to question God. When it comes to wisdom, we should search God; when it comes to character, God should search us. It is one thing to ask questions of God: to go to him with our questions, humbly, with open hands, bowing before him, in search of true wisdom. It is another thing to question God: to demand he answer to us; to go to him proudly, with fists clinched, and question his Good, Just, Wise, Holy, Loving character. We are the ones who are full of impurity; there is not the slightest shadow in the character of God.

"How could God...?! If there really is a God... why does God... why doesn't God... ?!"

Such statements  they are more statements than sincere questions  are a slander on the character of God.

Paul deals with this inclination to judge God, and question his character, in Romans 9:18-21.
So then God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
I include here something I've included in a couple of other places on this blog, but something relevant to this topic.

In saying God gives the Christian salvation by grace, as a gift, we are saying: GOD FREELY GIVES SALVATION. "Freely" has 2 important, and connected, senses:

1) God is free in all He does – He does according to His good pleasure (Mt. 11.26), according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1.3ff), according to His own purpose (Romans 8.28ff), He has mercy on whoever pleases (Romans 9.18), he has mercy on whoever he chooses (Mt. 11.27). God’s sovereign hand is not forced from outside Himself. In short, God does as He pleases, when He pleases, and shows mercy to whom He pleases (i.e. wills, desires, chooses), when He wants, and how He wants.

 2) God’s mercy is due to nothing in us; it is a gift, gratis, undeserved, unearned, unmerited, unbought, unsought. God owes no man anything but wrath. There is no reason in the creature, even in the best of men, for the love of God. We come to God as beggars, never as creditors. God stands toward us as benefactor, never as debtor.

False Premise V. Doubting God's Goodness

In IV above, we addressed the tendency to judge God and malign his character. This is, indeed, often at back of the question, "Why didn't God save ..." This casts God as mean-spirited, distant, cruel, uncaring, unkind, unconcerned with his world. This is slander; the opposite is the case.

Let's open our eyes to the truth: God is good. Far from being miserly or severe, God has a large and loving heart. He sent his Son, and in so doing announced, "Goodwill toward man (Luke 2.14)." God has a good will toward man, a kindly disposition, that caused him to bring peace to war-torn earth. If being faithful to the scripture, we should even say God is friendly: friendly even to those who have formerly lived in scandalous rebellion against him. It was said of Jesus, "He is the friend of sinners (Mt. 11.19)."

God is generous and beneficent to a world at war with him, and this generosity has extended to every man in every age. God is good; he has a large and loving heart; he is not miserly, or mean, malicious, or cruel. And, God is not just one good thing among other good things. He is the source of all good.
R.M. McCheyne: All the joys in the world are but beams from that uncreated light which is God; but separate a man from God, and all becomes dark. God is the fountain of all joy—separate a man from God finally, and nothing can give him joy.
God is pouring goodness like a flood on our world. I mean, look around you: did you invent this world? Did you make anything out of nothing? You live and play rent free in God's wonder world. God is good; we just don't notice it. Deserve? God causes the sun to shine on the world day after day: a world which is filled with men and women who despise him, and never once stop to thank him. He gives food, and joy, and friends, and family, and countless other good things to a mankind in rebellion against him. Stop and think: when is the last time you did something kind to someone who hates you?

False Premise VI. Personal Disregard

"What about those people?"

Sometimes, the question arises from vain curiosity. When this is so, it comes from person gazing out over history with a god-like preoccupation for the particulars of the human drama. In other words, such a person is concerned about the salvation of everyone but themselves.

"What about those people?"

What about them? They must stand before God as individuals accountable for their own lives on the judgment day. You and I must stand before God as well, and we won't give an account for their lives, but for our own. On the judgment day, the object of greatest import for us will be our own salvation, not the salvation of tribesmen in 1544. When John became nosy about the fate of Peter, Jesus rebuked him bluntly, "If it's my will that he remains until I return, what does that concern you? You follow me (John 21.18-21)."

In words other, "You need to worry about you. I will rule the universe according to my prerogative and will. That's my business. Your business is following me. Keep to your business. Focus on what is truly important in your life: YOUR life."

So, when someone says, "What about those people..." it may be they are focusing on something that is not their concern. They are indeed playing God, and being a busy body in the universe. The real and important question for each of us is NOT, "What about them?" But, "What about me?" We have compassion on the souls of tribes people in distant lands with whom we've never spoken a word? Yet, we don't have compassion on our own souls and earnestly seek salvation? Something is disordered about such priorities.

Jesus was once asked, "Are few people going to be saved."

He responded, not by giving a straight up answer, but rather a command, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to (Luke 13:24)."

Jesus is warning against 1) Vain preoccupation with the salvation of others to the 2) Neglect and disregard for our own salvation.

1) Vain Preoccupation about the salvation of others. 

We can spend our lives doing population studies of heaven. What about those people? Who is saved? Who is really really saved? Are they real Christians? Are the Greek philosophers going to be in Heaven?

John Calvin warned against this in his comments on Luke 13:24: 
...these words were intended to withdraw his people from a foolish curiosity, by which many are retarded and involved, when they look around to see if any companions are joining them, as if they were unwilling to be saved but in a crowd. When he bids them strive, or labor, he conveys the information, that it is impossible to obtain eternal life without great and appalling difficulties. Let believers, therefore, give their earnest attention to this object, instead of indulging in excessive curiosity about the vast number of those who are going astray. 
2) Neglect and disregard for our own salvation. 

Our own salvation! The salvation of our precious everlasting souls. This is something of eternal moment: something that truly concerns us, and something that should concern us, truly. 

"Make every effort," Jesus says. He calls us to focus with laser like precision on the salvation, first of all, of our own souls. We don't have time to worry about tribesmen in 1544; this calls forth every ounce of energy we have.
Heart-work is hard work indeed. To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and careless spirit, will cost no great difficulties; but to set yourself before the Lord, and to tie up your loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him: this will cost you something (John Flavel).
God has given us means to attend to, and we should give our all in attendance on these means:
"Make every effort" teaches that a man must use means diligently, if he would have his soul saved. There are means which God has appointed to help man in his efforts to approach Him. There are ways in which a man must walk, if he desires to be found by Christ. Public Worship, reading the Bible, hearing the Gospel preached--these are the kind of things to which I refer. They lie, as it were, in the middle, between man and God. Doubtless no one can change his own heart, or wipe away one of his sins, or make himself in the least degree acceptable to God; but I do say that if man could do nothing but sit still, Christ would never have said "Make every effort." 
-J.C. Ryle, Self-Exertion.
So, what should our chief concern be? Looking to the good of our own souls, not meddling in the prerogatives of God. J.C. Ryle further commented on Luke 13:24:
It teaches unmistakably that mighty truth, our own personal responsibility for the salvation of our souls. It shows the immense danger of putting off the great business of Christianity, as so many unhappily do...Make every effort" teaches that man is a free agent, and will be dealt with by God as a responsible being. The Lord Jesus does not tell us to wait, and wish, and feel, and hope, and desire. He says, "Make every effort." I call that worthless religion which teaches people to be content with saying, "We can do nothing ourselves," and makes them continue in sin. It is as bad as teaching people that it is not their fault if they are not converted, and that God only is to blame if they are not saved. I find no such theology in the New Testament. I hear Jesus saying to sinners, "Come--repent--believe--labor-ask--knock." I see plainly that our salvation, from first to last, is entirely "of God;" but I see with no less clarity that our ruin, if lost, is wholly and entirely of ourselves. I maintain that sinners are always addressed as accountable and responsible; and I see no better proof of this than what is contained in the words "Make every effort."... Make every effort" teaches that laziness towards Christianity is a great sin. It is not merely a misfortune, as some fancy--a thing for which people are to be pitied, and a matter for regret. It is something far more than this. It is a breach of a clear commandment... He knows full well, that so long as you do not "make every effort," you must come at last to the place where the destroying maggot never dies, and the fire that is never quenched. Be careful that you do not come to this end. I repeat it, "you have only to do nothing, and you will be lost."
And here is Edwards in The Character of Paul, An Example For Christians:
(Paul) was not careless and indifferent in this matter; but the kingdom of heaven suffered violence from him. He did not halt between two opinions, or seek with a wavering, unsteady mind, but with the most full determination and strong resolution. He resolved, if it could by any means be possible, that he would attain to the resurrection of the dead. He does not say that he was determined to attain it, if he could, by means that were not very costly or difficult, or by laboring for it a little time, or only now and them, or without any great degree of suffering, or without great loss in his temporal interest. But if by any means he could do it, he would, let the means be easy or difficult... he apostle, as eminent as he was, did not say within himself, “I am converted, and so am sure of salvation. Christ has promised it me. Why need I labor any more to secure it? Yea, I am not only converted, but I have obtained great degrees of grace.” But still he is violent after salvation. He did not keep looking back on the extraordinary discoveries he enjoyed at his first conversion, and the past great experience he had had from time to time... The apostle knew that though he was converted, yet there remained a great work that he must do... The apostle’s hope was not of a nature to make him slothful. It had a contrary effect. The assurance he had of victory, together with the necessity there was of fighting, engaged him to fight not as one that beat the air, but as one that wrestled with principalities and powers. 
"What about those people?" If this arises from flippant curiosity  that is, unless this involves your endeavor to bring the gospel to a group  this is not your concern. You, follow Christ, and make every effort to enter by the narrow door.


In 1735, John Wesley sailed to America to be a missionary in Georgia. On the way, he was amazed by the sublime calm of Moravian Christians in facing death. It seemed they knew something, or Someone, he didn't know.

After arriving, a Moravian pastor named Spangenberg cornered him, "Have you the witness within yourself?"

He continued, "Does the Spirit of God witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?"
Wesley was speechless.

"Do you know Jesus Christ?" the pastor demanded.

Wesley answered, "I know he is the Savior of the world."

"True," the pastor replied, "but do you know he has saved you?"

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